BOT is short for a robot. However, unlike robots who perform physical tasks, bots are automated programs.
Bots are all over the internet. They make up half of the traffic over the web!
Many websites ask you to declare you are not one yourself before you can access certain web pages. You do this by filling a code on a captcha like this or answering a question.
What are Bots
Bots are software programs programmed to do certain repetitive tasks. They are automated – a human does not need to kick it off every time they run. They generally operate on a network and simulate or replace human behavior. There are both good bots that have benevolent applications, and there are bad (malicious) bots as well.
Web Crawlers or Spiders
Web crawlers (or spiders) are bots that roam over the internet and index web content. They are programmed to visit URLs and index web pages so that they can direct users looking for the content to these pages. There are 5.27 billion indexed pages on the internet (as of 31st March 2021). Just imagine if the enormous task of indexing all these pages required human intervention!
These bots visit the web pages in a programmed, systematic way, making copies of web pages and indexing them. SEO engines like Google and Bing use such web crawlers. Web crawlers also perform maintenance, analytics, and collect information. They validate links and HTML code, report broken or redundant links, etc.
Some malicious Web crawlers may be used to scrape information from websites.
These are bots that replicate human behavior in chats. They are programmed to respond to certain phrases. Some chatbot applications are Virtual customer service assistants and Customer engagement bots.
Virtual Customer Service Assistants
The chatbots are programmed to reply to general queries and direct users to appropriate links or service queues for further assistance.
Chatbots are programmed to provide smarter responses by using Artificial intelligence. Well-programmed chatbots may handle up to 80% of queries as service assistants. During the current global pandemic, many organizations reduced service desk staff and relied on chatbots for handling a large part of their customer service.
Customer Engagement Bots or ChatBots
Chatbots are also used for customer engagement as option chat on websites, or engagement on Facebook pages as a chatbot on Facebook messenger. MessengerBot and ManyChat are examples of chatbot applications that work with Facebook Messenger. They enable e-Commerce stores and businesses to drive sales, get leads and engage prospects and customers. These chatbots can be easily programmed to set up conversation workflows. They have user-friendly interfaces where components can be dragged and dropped to set up conversation sequences.
MessengerBot can respond to a user message for you on a Facebook page that you manage. If you have an e-commerce store, you can program MessengerBot on your Facebook page to display product images to the user or present a form to fill. If the user is looking for a specific category of product the bot can take the user to the specific product page on an e-Commerce website. This facilitates automated customer engagement on a 24X7 basis without requiring direct human intervention.
The bot can also broadcast automated message sequences to Facebook page subscribers for engagement.
For a free trial or subscription go to MessengerBot
Social Media Bots
Social Media bots are automated programs used for engagement on social media. Some of these provide useful services like weather and sports updates. But most are ‘opinion bots’. They do not do any language conversations like chatbots, but just serve to provide ‘follows’ or likes.
These are used in unethical ways to
- Manipulatie public opinion
- Influencing elections,
- Artificially amplify the social media following of certain people and movements.
- Suppress free speech by overwhelming social media with the feed of contrarian viewpoints.
- Influence stock prices by amplifying good or bad news feed about corporations.
- Amplify phishing attacks by building false ‘trustworthiness’ of attackers by artificial feed and following.
- Spamming with advertisements.
Such social bots are usually bought on the black market.
Malicious bots can be used for web scraping information from websites. An army of bots can be controlled centrally as a ‘botnet’ and used to overwhelm target websites with bot traffic and deny service to the website users.
These are known as DDoS or Distributed Denial of Service attacks. Several tools and plugins like Akismet and Cerber are available that can prevent such attacks.